A Harrogate primary school has bought spare adrenaline auto-injectors for emergencies to save the lives of children with life-threatening allergies, following a change in the law and updated guidance from the Department of Health.
Darley Community Primary School is thought to be the first school in the Harrogate district to act on the new legislation. As soon as the change in law was in the pipeline, all staff at the school were trained in anaphylaxis management, and the day the policy came into effect, executive headteacher Nick Coates sourced the adrenaline.
The school has pupils currently assessed as being at risk from anaphylaxis, and the chair of the school's Parents, Teachers and Friends Association, Ruth Watson, 34, who was diagnosed with idiopathic anaphylaxis in 2003, said the changes introduced from October 1 allowing schools to buy extra auto-injectors without prescription, could mean the difference between life and death.
In the UK, 17 per cent of fatal allergic reactions in school-aged children happen while they are at school, and for a rural primary like Darley, knowing that the adrenaline is more readily available without relying on an ambulance to reach them quickly, has reassured both parents and children.
The spare devices can be used on pupils at risk of anaphylaxis where consent from doctors and parents has already been obtained.
With severe allergies running in the family, Ms Watson is concerned that her nine-year-old son Jack could be at risk, and aware that up to six per cent of children and young people have a food allergy, she is committed to raising awareness and runs training in schools to help teachers and staff operate the injectors, and understand anaphylaxis.
She said: "For someone like me who has had it for so long, I can understand it and process what's happening. I've been in situations where it's been touch and go, and had points where it has become critical.
"But for children, to understand the actual feeling of your airway closing is very frightening. They won't understand what's going on if it's never happened before. And the more children panic, the worse the situation becomes. To be able to get it sorted out straight away with an injection will make all the difference."
Thousands of parents and teachers backed the Anaphylaxis Campaign's 'Spare Pens in Schools Campaign', and now the law has been passed, Ms Watson hopes every school will buy adrenaline and follow Darley Community Primary School's example.
She said: "The number of children with anaphylaxis is increasing every year, people need to be more aware. I hope that now they have relaxed the law, schools will really jump on board.
"People need to know the statistics and how dangerous it is. From someone who has a son who could potentially get it in the future, I feel a lot safer in the event that it does happen in school. Before the change, if he had a reaction, he could potentially die at school. But it's a huge relief that the school can now have the adrenaline."
Something that can make allergic reactions even more dangerous is their unpredictability. For Ms Watson, her idiopathic anaphylaxis means that she has both main triggers and unknown triggers. A mushroom allergy runs in the family, but totally unexpected last year was her reaction to a hair product.
Ms Watson first had an allergic reaction when she was five or six, but it wasn't until she was much older in her twenties that she was diagnosed, after going into cardiac arrest while serving in Northern Ireland.
She said: "Although I had a reaction when I was five or six, back then anaphylaxis wasn't that well known. We've been waiting for this change in the law for a long time. My son is fully trained to inject me. The more people know about this the better."
The executive headteacher of Darley Community Primary School, Nick Coates, said: "You hear about the smallest of things saving a life, and this could make all the difference.
"As a school we are really into giving children real life experience teaching them about first aid. This could save a child's life, it's a no-brainer."